War and Malaria

Today Memorial Day is being observed in the USA where the services of troops past and present are being remembered. Being in war exposes troops to more dangers than bullets and bombs. In fact war can increase malaria, among both troops and civilians through three main processes.

  1. movement of people – troops and displaced persons – into malaria endemic areas
  2. changes in local ecology that facilitate mosquito breeding and make malaria more prevalent
  3. disruptions of health infrastructure that limits or stops malaria control services

The effect of malaria on US troops exemplifies the problem. Records were available for Union troops during the US Civil War and documented 1.3 million cases and 10,000 deaths. Malariasite.com presents war related malaria deaths dating back to Alexander the Great, but more recently notes that “60,000 U.S. troops died in Africa and the South Pacific from malaria. U.S. Forces could succeed only after organising a successful attack on malaria.” During the Korean War “U.S. military hospitals were inundated with cases of malaria, with as many as 629 cases per week,” and in Vietnam “over 40,000 cases of Malaria were reported in US Army troops alone between 1965 and 1970 with 78 deaths.”

The Stars and Stripes news service reports the continuing threat of malaria to troops. Troops are still in South Korea, and South Korea’s own Center for Disease Control issued a malaria alert for northern Gyeonggi province where they are based. Several malaria cases have been documented according to a 15th September 2007 story, which also explained that, “None were provided with repellent-treated uniforms or mosquito nets, nor had he seen anyone issued military-grade skin lotion to protect themselves in an area known for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.” Another article titled “Afghan hazards include malaria as well as bombs,” shows the global reach of malaria when troops are spread across the world.

It is not surprising that the US Military has one of the most prominent malaria research centers in the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. WRAIR is not modest in saying, “No organization in the world has WRAIR’s experience in the complete spectrum of malaria research. The rapidity with which malaria becomes resistant to new drugs drives researchers’ efforts to develop candidate drugs and vaccines. WRAIR has been extremely successful in developing and field testing antimalarial drugs, such as mefloquine, halofantrine, and tafenoquine, which provide treatment alternatives for drug-resistant strains. Scientists at one of the Institute’s overseas research facilities demonstrated the efficacy of doxycycline in the prevention of malaria.”

The fact that army research into malaria has civilian benefits does not justify war since war itself is a major perpetrator of the disease. To quote Randall Packard, “Developing nations also need to take a more active role in both preventing and limiting armed conflicts that disrupt economies, destroy health services, and contribute to the loss and displacement of millions of lives. The human tragedies of civil wars in Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, Tajikistan, and Colombia – to name a few – have all been made worse by the unleashing of malaria epidemics.”

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